|ESPN.com: ESPNBoston||[Print without images]|
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have lost three key rotation players to season-ending injuries over the past three weeks, and forward Paul Pierce admitted after Wednesday's win over the Chicago Bulls that he's played part of the season with a pinched nerve in his neck.
"It's something that's been bothering me probably for like the last two months," Pierce said. "It's getting better, though. The last couple weeks, it's been better than it has been."
Pierce is averaging 18.7 points on 41.9 percent shooting this season, with 6.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 34 minutes per game. He put together a solid December (his scoring average was at a season-best 20.8 points per game on 44.1 percent shooting), but everything but his rebounding plummeted in January when the injury appeared to nag him the most. Pierce has bounced back in February, picking up his all-around contributions since All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo went down with an ACL tear. Pierce is averaging 18.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists in February, with two triple-doubles in the past nine games.
Pierce and All-Star teammate Kevin Garnett were nominated for Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors this week but lost out to Miami's LeBron James.
Pierce labored through 2-of-12 shooting (missing all seven 2-point field goals he attempted) while finishing with eight points, six rebounds and six assists over 33:42 in a 71-69 triumph over Chicago on Wednesday. The game wrapped up the pre-All-Star portion of Boston's schedule.
Pierce will get four days to rest before the Celtics embark on a five-game West Coast trip to open the second half of the season. Boston's captain pledged to leave impending roster decisions in the hands of coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
The 15-year veteran admitted that the All-Star break arrived at an excellent time. Boston has won eight of its past nine games, but players are mentally and physically exhausted from playing with a short-handed roster. Rondo, Jared Sullinger (back) and Leandro Barbosa (ACL) have season-ending injuries.
"[The break is] coming right at the right time," Pierce said. "So many things have gone on over the last weeks with us -- mentally and physically. I think this is a perfect time for the break, especially with the injuries we have. I think the latest blow with Barbosa, it really hit us mentally and emotionally. Guys really felt that."